Tried & Tested

Hotel check: Cafe Royal

30 Dec 2013 by Tom Otley
BACKGROUND The Café Royal Hotel opened originally in 1860 and many readers will remember it from attending events in one of its elegant function rooms. It closed for refurbishment in 2008 (see news story here) and reopened in December 2012 after a few delays. It joins the Conservatorium in Amsterdam as the second hotel from The Set though the hotel is also a member of Leading Hotels of the World. WHAT'S IT LIKE? Fabulously opulent, but saved from being over the top by a sensitive interior design and the art deco touches that have either been allowed to remain or have been reinstated and reimagined. Getting to and from the rooms involves one of four historic lifts, but you can just as easily take the wide sweeping stone staircase up and down to your room. The entrance on Piccadilly is through a revolving door, and once inside (if not before) you’ll be helped by liveried doormen. To the left is reception, though it’s only small and also a corridor through to the restaurant (on the right) and a café (on the left), so it’s easy to walk right past it. The design is chiefly by David Chipperfield (also responsible for the superb Hepworth Wakefield) but also by designers Piero Lissoni and Jean-Michel Wilmotte who collectively have created a feel for the hotel referencing both Mayfair and Soho. WHERE IS IT? On Regent Street right at the south end by Piccadilly, with good transport connections down to Heathrow on the underground. Perfect for the West End. ROOM FACILITIES The 159 rooms and suites are on floors 1-6. The rooms start at 32sqm for the Mansard rooms in the roof of the hotel (oak panelling, Frette Linen, Floris bathroom amenities, bathroom mirror TV screen, Bang and Olufsen entertainment system, complimentary WiFi), followed by 35sqm for the wood-floored Portland rooms. All have the sort of spot lighting system that make the room seem like either a work of art or as though you are about to walk on stage, but then paying these sort of prices you might want to feel special. Bathrooms have baths in Carrara marble. The hotel is made up of three different buildings, one of which was the old County Fire House and this has been referenced in the bathroom divider screens, and the elegant rectangular pattern of the opaque windows around the internal light shaft. In fact the layout of the corridors can be a bit confusing, not helped by the very discreet signage on the walls. Portland Rooms take their name from the John Nash frontage on Regent Street. As far as service was concerned, some staff were excellent – on check-in I was shown to my room and given a tour of its features, something I was glad of since everything from the sheer drapes and blackout curtains to the revolving stand of the huge TV is remote-controlled – while others seemed a little uninterested. When going out in the evening for security I always remove my key card from its cardboard holder with the room number on. Coming in at midnight I had forgotten my room number, and so because I had no identification with room card a staff member escorted me up the room and waited until I had proven my identity. This was done in good humour, and the next morning when I couldn’t find the key card, I was supplied a new one without any fuss (I did have my wallet with me that time). RESTAURANTS AND BARS The Ten Room offers breakfast lunch and dinner, while The Bar revives absinthe cocktails in memory of Oscar Wilde (famed patron). Breakfast isn’t served until 0700, and the room was too dark, but when I asked for the lights to be turned up I was brought my own little lamp so I could work. Restored: The hotel's equisite Grill Room As you’d expect from a five-star hotel in Central London, prices are very high - £32 for English breakfast – service is good, though my Eggs Royal at £16 were only slightly warm and were too salty. I’ve heard the hotel is redesigning this room, and it needs it – it doesn’t quite work and is maybe too formal to feel really comfortable. In addition, the hotel has a European style café and the exquisitely restored Grill Room where you can “…enjoy Champagne, cocktails and a light menu”. BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES The hotel hasn’t forgotten its heritage here, with a dedicated meeting centre on the first floor with a range of rooms in a variety of themes from oak panelling through to more modern décor, and spaces from 26sqm to 176sqm with capacities from 14 – 230. Entrance to the meeting centre is via a welcome reception and rooms are orientated around a separate lounge foyer at the centre. The hotel also has historic rooms such as the Grade–II Pompadour Suite, which is unlike any other function/ dining room in London for the opulence of its decoration. LEISURE FACILITIES Just about to open as I visited was the Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre including a good-sized gym, exercise studio and basement 18-metre swimming pool, along with steam rooms, six treatment rooms and a Watsu Pool. VERDICT The hotel is a mix of unique heritage and fabulous modern design, but it is still finding its feet in terms of having a personality. I’ve been three or four times for functions and also to stay, and experienced exemplary service, yet on other occasions while staff have been willing, they have lacked training. A new general manager starts in 2014 so perhaps things will change for the better. FACT FILE
  • HOW MANY ROOMS? 159 rooms ranging from the entry level Mansard Rooms to “Historic” suites, many of which can also be used as even spaces
  • HIGHLIGHTS Tthe sound-proofing is outstanding – Regent Street and the surrounding streets are completely excluded noise-wise. Free wifi is good, and the interior design of the hotel and the rooms is very luxurious
  • PRICE Internet rates start from £400 (including taxes but excluding breakfast)
  • CONTACT; tel +44 (0)20 7406 3322
Tom Otley
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